As day three dawns and the culmination of the 2021 European Championships is upon us, pick of the day for JudoInside is the men’s U90kg category. With Georgia yet to announce their representative in this weight class, tomorrow sees Lasha Bekauri and Beka Gviniashvili competing in what may prove to be their second most important contest of 2021.
To allow selected athletes to prepare both mentally and physically for Tokyo, Georgia won’t want to leave it until the eleventh hour to finalise their Olympic squad.
Sitting in 4th and seventh place respectively on the world ranking list, with only 241 points separating them going into tomorrow’s contest, it’s little wonder that this epic battle is coming down to the wire.
With Gviniashvili giving way to Liparteliani at -90kg in Rio 2016, he remarkably still managed to qualify for the tournament, fighting up a weight at -100kg, taking Gold in the Baku Grand Slam and the Samsun Grand Prix that year, adding a Bronze medal at his home Grand Prix in Tbilisi and fifth at the Tokyo Grand Slam all at the heavier weight. Eventually taking 7th place in Rio.
Liparteliani’s move to -100 after achieving the -90kg Olympic silver medal behind Japans Mashu Baker, saw the way clear for his compatriot at the lighter weight going into the run up to Tokyo.
The rise of Bekauri
In the same year that Gviniashvili was on the chase for Rio at -100kg, 15 year old Lasha Bekauri was a young -60kg Georgian Cadet taking his first taste of major international success playing a key role in Georgia’s victory in the European Cadet Team Championships in Vantaa Finland.
Like Gviniashvili before him, his ascent through the age banded categories was nothing short of stratospheric, their careers from a young age are so remarkably similar as to appear uncanny.
Both players took Gold at the Cadet European and Cadet World Championships. Gviniashvili won the Junior European Championships three times, taking his first Gold in Sarajevo aged 18, Bekauri was 19 when he won in Vantaa Finland.
Both went on to win two World Junior Championships, Gviniashvili taking his first the day before his 19th birthday in Ljubljana, Bekauri was 18 when he took the first of his junior world titles in Nassau.
Gviniashvili won the first of many IJF Tour major titles aged 18 at the Samsun Grand Prix, adding the World Masters in Rabat in 2015 and St Petersburg in 2017 as well as many more Grand Slams and Grand Prix’s along the way.
Bekauri announced his arrival at the top of the senior world stage aged just 19, taking the IJF World Masters title in Qingdao China in December 2019. This remarkable achievement signalling for all the world, that Georgia has a new kid on the block at -90kg, in contention for a place at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
This year’s battle
While Gviniashvili took silver behind Nöel Van ‘t End at the 2021 IJF Masters in Doha, Bekauri was one step below him on the podium, adding a Bronze medal to the Gold he took the year before.
A month later at the Grand Slam in Tel Aviv, the roles were reversed with Bekauri taking the Gold medal, beating world number one Nikoloz Sherazadishvili in the final while Gviniashvili joined Krisztian Toth on the Bronze medal podium.
Add in to the mix the greatest players in Europe and the World and tomorrow’s event won’t be plain sailing for either of them.
In an ideal world, with Lasha top seed in Pool B and Beka leading the second half of Pool D both players would fight their way through to the Final for the opportunity to rightfully claim the Olympic berth as their own.
For neither player is it a foregone conclusion.
In a sport as capricious as judo matches can be won or lost in the blink of an eye, one lapse in concentration or one moment of brilliance from your opponent and the day is over almost before it began.
Bekauri has former World Champion Nemanja Majdov in his group, who himself has the possibility of facing former European Champion Marcus Nyman in his second match if both prevail in their first, who aged 30, has hit a remarkable run of form recently, taking the last two Grand Slams in Tbilisi and Antalya.
Gviniashvili has number 4 seed and long time adversary Krisztian Toth at the head of his group, if both reach the final of their pool history suggests Beka has a good chance of reaching the semi finals with a record of 7-1 over Toth.
If Bekauri reaches the semis, the form books would suggest he meets number one seed Sherazadishvili who sits at the top of group A.
Bekauri has beaten him twice in two outings.
Waiting for Gviniashvili if he makes it to the semis, expect to see Nöel Van t End or Mikhail Igolnikov who are the pick of the bunch in Pool C.
In their last outing Van t’ End played a tactical blinder never letting the Russian in close and beat Igolnikov in Golden Score. Levelling up their head to head matches at 1:1.
Whoever wins the rubber match will march on to the the semis to meet Gviniashvili.
Both Van ‘t End and Igolnikov are ahead in their matches with the Georgian, but he has beaten them both in the past.
That’s a lot of if’s and buts and as they say ‘if if’s were horses, beggars would ride.’
Whatever happens tomorrow we are in for a treat.
For Beka Gviniashvili and Lasha Bekauri, tomorrow could be the most important day in their illustrious careers to date.
Join us in wishing the athletes the very best and enjoy the third day from Lisbon.